The black text is a shortened version of an original work by Chris, The Harpy’s Child. Original at https://sites.google.com/site/harpyschild/ Copyright 2007, all rights reserved
[There are two basic types of narcissistic mothers, the ignoring type and the engulfing type. These may—and often do—overlap but most NMs have a basic style and will be primarily one or the other. Some of the following points may not apply to your NM simply because they describe an engulfing characteristic when your NM is an ignoring type—or vice versa. But our mothers are not the only narcissists we will encounter in our lives. In fact, being raised by a narcissistic parent actually sets us up to be prey for more of the self-centred emotional vampires as we go out into the world, from girlfriends who are anything but friends to lovers who love themselves best to husbands who are the mirror image of dear old mom. So, whether something looks like it applies to your NM or not, read and consider it carefully—it may give you the awareness necessary to avoid the predator lurking around the next bend. As ever, my comments are shown in violet. -V]
It's about secret things. The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of her self. It's about body language. It's about disapproving glances. It's about vocal tone. It's very intimate. And it's very powerful. It's part of who the child is. ~ Chris
1. Everything she does is deniable. There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern. She only wants what is best for you. She only wants to help you.
I came home from school one day and almost all of my toys were gone. She had given them to the Goodwill. She was doing me a favour because I hardly ever played with the stuff (which actually wasn’t true, she just didn’t see me playing with them because I was usually behind closed doors, hiding from her) and with fewer toys it would be easier to keep my room clean. It was my fault she gave them away...and she was helping me...
She rarely says right out that she thinks you're inadequate. Instead, any time that you tell her you've done something good, she counters with something your sibling did that was better or she simply ignores you or she hears you out without saying anything, then in a short time does something cruel to you so you understand not to get above yourself. She will carefully separate cause (your joy in your accomplishment) from effect (refusing to let you borrow the car to go to the awards ceremony) by enough time that someone who didn't live through her abuse would never believe the connection.
This sounds so much like my childhood it is creepy. My Golden Child Brother (GCBro) could do no wrong and when it did, it was someone else’s fault…like if he did not do his chores after school, I got the beating because I didn’t make him do them! If I got an “A” on my report card, it was expected; math was hard for me and when I proudly brought my grade up to a “B” I was reminded that GCBro got “A”s, what was wrong with me? I received numerous awards in high school for music and academics—she attended none of the ceremonies and I had to get rides from friends in order to attend and receive my awards—assuming I could get permission to go, that is.
When I was little she discovered I had a big voice and went from ignoring to engulfing. My whole life was about the singing career that was going to make me famous and her rich. That I would rather play paperdolls with the little girl across the street was ignored—my life was taken over with costume fittings, singing lessons, auditions, singing engagements…and I hated it. Eventually I pretended I couldn’t sing anymore and the whole thing was dropped, and NM went back to being ignoring, although she remained suspicious. It was not until nearly five years later that I joined the school choir and quickly became one of the featured singers. But NM never attended the concerts, never came to hear me sing. In my senior year, I was chosen as a featured soloist in my school choir for an all-city choir competition. At the last minute she forbade me to go…
She didn’t attend my high school graduation.
She only attended my wedding because my step father dragged her there, and then she showed up in mid-ceremony, wearing a white dress!
Many of her putdowns are simply by comparison. She'll talk about how wonderful someone else is or what a wonderful job they did on something you've also done or how highly she thinks of them. The contrast is left up to you. She has let you know that you're no good without saying a word…
The woman across the road had the perfect teenaged daughter, to hear NM tell it. I, of course, fell far short of the mark. Interestingly, NM would not allow me to use the sewing machine, the washing machine, or cook dinner but the praise she lavished on the neighbour girl for helping her mother with those tasks was awesome to behold...and I fell far short by comparison.
She'll spoil your pleasure in something by simply congratulating you for it in an angry, envious voice that conveys how unhappy she is, again, completely deniably. It is impossible to confront someone over their tone of voice, their demeanor or they way they look at you, but once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word. As a result, you're always afraid, always in the wrong, and can never exactly put your finger on why.
When I did well on something or did a good deed and told my NM, she would accuse me “tooting my own horn” or call me “Miss Goody-Two-Shoes” in a voice dripping condemnation. There was no pleasing her at all—the best that could be hoped was to be invisible and you got that by being perfect. If all of the chores were done to her satisfaction and I was out of sight, I was most likely safe. I say most likely because if she had a mood going on, either the nits would be picked or she would embark upon a recitation of my sins from the day my birth (no exaggeration or hyperbole here—she would remind me of her emergency C-section and blood transfusion and complain about her stretch marks, that I had colic and wouldn’t let her sleep and on and on and ON!)
No remark on my part was permitted, not even an “I’m sorry,” which she would have interpreted as mocking. I must sit and attentively listen, changing the expression on my face to ones that she expected (learned from bitter experience on my part) as her litany rolled endlessly on. To interrupt, to contradict, to ask questions, to fail to show the correct expression during her tirade of what was wrong with me from the day I was born was to invite The Strap, a thin leather dog lead (sans metal clip) that hung on the back of the kitchen door and left red whiplike welts when applied forcefully to the tender skin of my thighs and buttocks.
Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her…
How true this is! NM went through friends like a monkey through peanuts. She was glib and charming (in an intense, slightly tawdry kind of way) and highly intelligent. She would make friends with people…never with women more attractive than she was, however…who were useful to her in one way or another. They were flattered by her friendship, and because it doesn’t occur to people that someone will lie about their children in negative ways (they might pump up a child’s abilities or attributes or achievements but not the reverse), when NM said bad things about me, people paid attention—including family members—and belived every word. This, of course, is a neat trick to discredit me in case I ever screw up the courage to speak up. And it works: when a teacher once saw the marks on the back of my legs and took me aside to query me about them, she wanted to know what I had done to make my mother so mad as to mark me like that!
She's also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses. She's very secretive, a characteristic of almost all abusers (“Don't wash our dirty laundry in public!”) and will punish you for telling anyone else what she's done.
Yup. A teacher sent me to the school nurse because I couldn’t see the black board; the school nurse tested my eyes, then called NM to tell her I needed glasses. She told the nurse I was “faking it,” that is was just another one of my “attention-getting devices” and there was nothing wrong with my vision. It was not until she was threatened by the nurse that she would call the County and report her for neglect that I got my first pair of glasses…but I paid a heavy price in haranguing, disbelief, threats of doom, and a disdainful, dismissive attitude.
The times and locations of her worst abuses are carefully chosen so that no one who might intervene will hear or see her bad behavior, and she will seem like a completely different person in public.
She even hid it from my father. He worked a part time job at night and she would make me lay across the bed, pants down, and beat me with that strap. When she was done she would warn me that if I breathed a word to my “precious father,” she would give me twice as much the following night. And yet, if you saw us out in public, you would think we were the iconic Fifties family, well-behaved (terrified of misbehaving is more the truth) daughter, mischievous little brother, loving parents… And, of course, she was always the sweet, loving mother saddled with the impossible child…
She'll slam you to other people, but will always embed her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip in protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don't know what I can do for her!”)
Mine, being an ignoring mother, wouldn’t know enough about my life to say something like this and to do anything for me went against the grain—I was supposed to do for myself, if I wasn’t so (expletive deleted) lazy. But false concern can be directed elsewhere and in such a manner that it gets an ugly, painful, passive-aggressive message across to the real target. NM “felt sorry for those poor girls” next door and nearly had them taken away from their mother whom she disliked because the woman was a focal point of neighbourhood sympathy (she was a war widow with two young daughters). Oddly, my NM managed to do the exact same thing to two other mothers…express “concern” over the children in such a way as to try to get the kids away from their mothers—those mothers, of course, being her real target. By slamming other people until their reputations are in tatters, and then expressing sympathy for the children, she locks in her own rep as a “good guy” so that later, when she sets the machinery in motion to separate the kids from their mother, people believe it is an act of benevolence to spearhead taking innocent children from someone who is, in truth, a perfectly fit mother.
As a consequence the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“I have to tell you that she always talks about YOU in the most caring way!”).
This is painfully true. Additionally, those who do believe them can end up on the receiving end of a smear campaign or find themselves cut firmly out of your life. Only people who believe the narcissistic mother’s slander get to stick around…at least until they learn how they are also being slandered behind their backs and move on.
My NM had a friend I’ll call Beatrix. Bea had a son a bit older than me, a great hulking, fleshy brute of a kid I’ll call Grant. I didn’t like Grant—he was clumsy and grabby and not particularly bright and NM kept shoving us together…I was about 13 and Grant was 14 or 15. One day, en route home from some event, Grant and I were shoved together in the back seat of NM’s car (with my GCBro, who was also a bulky kid) and Grant wouldn’t keep his hands to himself. At one point he tried to kiss me and shove one hand up my skirt, thrusting his tongue into my mouth whereupon I bit him. Of course he let out a roar of protest, I got a slap from my NM and we all rode in silence until we got to Bea’s house. Bea jumped out of the car and hustled Grant inside, incensed at me for hurting him. NM was also pissed at me for tossing a monkey wrench into her friendship with Bea. That he was sexually assaulting me in the backseat of the car with my brother sitting right there and both our mothers in the front seat seemed to be of no issue. “Bea thought you were such a nice girl!” NM told me later. “Guess you proved my point about you, huh?”
Unfortunately therapists, given the deniable actions of the narcissist and eager to defend a fellow parent, will often jump to the narcissist's defense as well, reinforcing your sense of isolation and helplessness (“I'm sure she didn't mean it like that!”)
I didn’t see a therapist with any degree of seriousness until I was in my mid-thirties. My own experience was positive as I found therapists who specialized in adults who had lived through abusive childhoods. But not everyone is so lucky. If you are seeing a therapist and s/he invalidates you (“I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that” or similar discounting), move on to one who is supportive. It is impossible to heal without a support system and if your therapist is undermining you or trying to get you to see things from your N’s point of view, that is not supportive and you need a new one!
Next: Part 2 Violating Boundaries